Down the Garden Path

Meander through Orange County’s most famously verdant city

Liz Goldner Add a comment

Tourists and locals sing Laguna Beach’s praises as one of the most picturesque towns in Orange County. The coastal village is a garden spot. Roads wind through greenery, and many streets have bucolic patches tucked into staircases and other pathways that lead to the beach. Among the city’s two dozen public parks, which range from pocket-size to 7 acres, you’ll find native species, seasonal flowers, and, often, original art. Here are eight favorites.

1. Heisler Park

This three-quarter-mile stretch of parkland, right, links Main Beach and Crescent Bay Park, becoming a long walkway atop ocean cliffs bordered by gardens and sculptures. Visitors gravitate toward a large rose garden off Cliff Drive, near a gazebo with vistas of rocky beaches and tide pools. And then there are the trees: Torrey pines, Monterey cypress, and Washingtonia palms.North Coast Highway between Cliff Drive and Myrtle Street.

2. Crescent Bay Point Park

A small park on a bluff overlooking the waves crashing against rock formations, Crescent Bay, has all the drama of a movie set. Decomposed-granite walkways with benches punctuate the lawns. Plants and flowers proliferate, including cactuses, geraniums, roses, and daffodils. Watch for hummingbirds, and look for a brass sea lion sculpture by Laguna artist Terry Thornsley. 223 Crescent Bay Drive.

3. Alta Laguna Park

One thousand and one feet up, this park stretches across 7 acres, looking out at Laguna and Aliso canyons, Saddleback, and the ocean. It’s a wind-swept oasis. Lawns and gardens of coastal sage and wildflowers surround playgrounds and sports fields. Stroll across the bridge over a stream, have lunch at the trellis-covered picnic tables, and look for wire sculptures of whale fins.3300 Alta Laguna Blvd.

4. Main Beach 

Stroll the boardwalk and admire vast lawns bordered by flowers, bushes, and trees. Geraniums and majestic aloes meet ficus and Lagunaria trees. You’ll also spy a well-tended patch of native California plants and flowers named A Garden by the Sea, donated by the Laguna Beach Garden Club. South Coast Highway from Broadway to Laguna Avenue. 

5. Bluebird Park

Renovated in 2003, this children’s playground/artistic creation has an outer-space theme with a flowing design that includes a rocket ship, a glass-mosaic tortoise 6 feet in diameter, and colorful play equipment. The walls and ledges are integrated with native plants, including Mexican marigolds, orange clock vine, plumbago, lemonade berries, California holly, blue hibiscus, Carmel creepers, jade plants, aloe saponaria, and jacaranda trees. Cress Street and Bluebird Canyon Drive. 

6. Moulton Meadows Park

The 7-acre expanse in a quiet neighborhood high above the city is accessible only by steep, curving roads. Undeveloped, it has the feel of a wilderness park. Built on several levels of bluffs, it offers numerous aloes, broad lawns, overgrown bushes, shade trees, as well as ocean and mountain views. You’ll also find playgrounds for the kids, hiking trails, sports fields, and a parcourse circuit for the grownups. Balboa and Del Mar avenues.

7. Treasure Island Park 

This spot takes its name from the 1934 Wallace Beery-Jackie Cooper movie that was filmed here. The garden is jointly owned and maintained by the city and the Montage Laguna Beach resort, which refers to it as the Montage Public Gardens. On a seaside bluff with immaculate lawns, the 4½-acre park just north of the hotel is filled with aloes, succulents, cactuses, bougainvilleas, daylilies, California poppies, purple Madeira, and birds of paradise. Wesley Drive and South Coast Highway. 

8. Village Green 

Designed by Fred Lang, Ken Wood, and Ann Christoph, the Village Green mimics an old town square. Two sculptured bronze gates open to gardens with native plants and huge trees, as well as playgrounds and a treehouse. Near the center is a large stonework sculpture, “Green Man With Red Birds,” by Julia Klemek. Catalina Avenue one block east of South Coast Highway.

Hortense Miller Garden: A Writer’s Restrained Retreat

The 2½-acre Hortense Miller Garden on the upper slopes of Laguna’s Boat Canyon will host a free open house March 19 with refreshments, live music, and shuttle transportation to and from a designated parking area. Docents will lead visitors on architectural and garden tours. The privately and publicly funded park, established in 1959 by writer-artist-teacher-gardener Hortense Miller, was designed as a retreat surrounding her classic ’50s modern home. Since her 2008 death, this unusual estate, containing her personal artwork, has been open to the public. “Hortense worked with a restrained palette, planting small flowers and bulbs,” says Leah Vasquez, director of art at the garden. View an abundance of flowers, plants, and trees from walkways and staircases throughout the hillside while on guided tours: Tuesday through Saturday by reservation, donations encouraged. 22511 Allview Terrace, 949-497-0716, hortensemillergarden.org.

photograph by Jason Wallis

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Orange Coast magazine. To see the complete story get a digital subscription here or buy it on newsstands now.

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